Bonjour tout le monde!
(I swore to myself that I would not contribute to the inexplicable cliché of France-bloggers to écrire every other mot en français for no raison at all, so this is my first and last indulgence.)
It’s now been a little over a week since I landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport and started to make myself at home in Paris, where I will be spending my third year of my Politics degree studying at Sciences Po. I’ve almost literally been drooling over this opportunity since my first week at Glasgow, so now that I’m finally here, there is that buzz of satisfaction and giddiness as my constant emotional background noise as I stroll along the river Seine. I am fully intent of enjoying my La Vie en Rose-tinted glasses for as long as this honeymoon period lasts, before I have completed my full integration into Parisian society and made complaining my number one hobby.
However, my arrival here was rendered a bit anticlimactic by the fact that I had already been to Paris twice during the summer months. This was done in the interests of not ending up sleeping under a bridge during my exchange year. Sciences Po offers nothing in terms of student housing (except for a one-month stay in halls for the modest price of 1000€ while you look for something more permanent, which wasn’t too appealing) and I wanted to avoid agency fees, so I set out to handle the notorious Parisian rental market on my own and went to visit flats in person well before the annual invasion of hordes of students in August/September. This adventure deserves a blog post of its own, but in the end I secured a cute studio near Trocadéro that I am currently enjoying very much.
My courses do not officially start until tomorrow, but I have just finished up the Welcome Programme that Sciences Po offers to all incoming exchange students. It’s quite a lot like Fresher’s Week, with all the same rituals of being bombarded by flyers, campus tours, and awkwardly repeating the same three standard questions to everyone you meet, but with the exception of having actual classes on top of it all. Sciences Po is very particular about the structure of all coursework, and is also big on oral presentations, so this programme gives us a chance to practice before we’re thrown to the sharks. With two presentations (in French) per day, it has hardly been a vacation, but there’s also been plenty of time to see the sights, tackle admin, and socialise.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned during the programme and while trying to set up my life here in Paris:
- Baguettes go stale much faster than you’d expect.
- Patience is your number one virtue. Nothing gets done quickly, ever. Except Sciences Po’s online course registration, where you will watch your favourite courses be filled up in 30 seconds. And of course, your favourite flat will be taken by someone else the day before your scheduled viewing.
- However, speaking French always helps, no matter if you’re dealing with a waiter or a secretary.
- When trying to get anything administrative done, despite all the horror stories, it’s really a simple process. Step 1: It’s always the window next door. Step 2: Realise that you are trapped in a cruel Sisyphean cycle of always trying to get to the window next door, and that you cannot win. Step 3: Cry.
- Spending a little more on food is almost always worth it. Spending a lot more on food, however, isn’t.
- If you, like me, insist on losing your student card at a museum before the first week is through, do it at a smaller one instead of the Louvre.
- Try as you may to seem cooler than all the tourists, sooner or later you will try to pull the lever on the metro doors the wrong way, and you will realise that in the end, you’re one of them.
- Also: this isn’t that bad. Live like you’re flying home tomorrow and enjoy this ridiculously pretty city.
I’m looking forward to extending this list over all the weeks of this academic year that stretch out in front of me. I’m also looking forward to the end of the heat wave that has ruled over Paris over the past week which in a very short amount of time caused me to develop an addiction to French-style lemonade to refresh myself. Till next time!
Questions? I’m always available on Facebook or my email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).